Sunday, June 21, 2009

For Old Time's Sake

I never cooked in college since I lived in the dorms, but after college I was lucky enough to live with roommates who loved cooking. In our three years together, a pattern emerged. Weekends were spent perusing cooking magazines and cookbooks, creating lists of dishes we wanted to make, and grocery shopping together or ordering Peapod. During the week, we'd email all day about what to have for dinner and who would be home first to start cooking. We took turns cooking for each other, but the best nights were when we cooked together. The kitchen was just big enough for three - one at the stove, one chopping and prepping, maybe one peering into the oven or refrigerator hungrily.

Whether we cooked together or separately, everyone had their specialties. Somehow, I became responsible for salad dressings. It became my habit to dip into the condiment cabinet and fridge shelf, pulling out random vinegars, mustards, oils, or the occasional worcestshire sauce. I'd whisk them together, seasoning with salt, pepper, or lemon juice as I saw fit. Now at this point you might be thinking that salad dressing comes in a bottle labeled "Kraft" or "Hidden Valley" and resides in the refrigerator doorway, lasting for years all hyped up on preservatives. But why ruin a perfectly fresh, homemade salad with that? To quote Julia Child, "The perfect vinaigrette is so easy to make that I see no reason whatsoever for bottle dressings."

One of my standby dressings was a tahini dressing, which will help you use up the tahini you bought to make hummus. It's quite good on a salad of mixed greens, cucumber, red onion, and chickpeas, but it's basically quite good on any kind of salad or just as a dip for carrot sticks and the like. I usually whisk up a small batch in a bowl, but you could make a larger batch in a food processor or mini blender. The dressing is so memorable that when I recently made it to welcome my former foodie roommate back to Chicago, she recognized its creamy pale complexion instantly.

"Is that your tahini dressing?" she asked. When I acknowledged that it was, she was excited. I made it for old time's sake, but it was like bringing an old friend back into my life. It was just as good as I remembered and I'm happy to have it back gracing my table or huddling in the kitchen with me, making any ordinary salad taste phenomenal.

Tahini Dressing

2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
water to adjust consistency

In a blender, blend together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic paste, and cayenne. With the motor running, add the oil in a stream, blending until the dressing is emulsified. Add water to adjust the consistency to your liking. Season with additional salt if desired.